Embracing Authenticity: A Letter to Black Women Breaking Free from GBV
By Christina M. Jones, Esq. Chief Executive of External Relations
Dear Black Woman,
I’m sure you have heard that you are a “Strong Black Woman.” And while that is generally true, I want to talk about why that archetype can be harmful when it comes to healing from trauma caused by gender-based violence.
One researcher describes the “Strong Black Woman” archetype as a dangerous single story told about black women that uplifts their strength, perseverance, and survival and minimizes their emotional well-being, tenderness, and humanity. It's important to realize the toll of being labeled a "strong Black woman" because ultimately, we are left unprotected because of the myth that we can just deal with trauma and move on.
Research shows, “[a]s a result of continuously conjuring resilience as a response to physical and psychological hardships, many Black women have mastered the art of portraying strength while concealing trauma—a balancing act often held in high esteem among Black women.”
I just want to let you know that you don't always have to be strong. The weight of historical trauma, from ancestral enslavement to present-day gender-based violence and systemic racial injustice is a burden that you don't need to carry alone. I know it’s in a lot of our nature to keep it moving because if we stop, who will help our communities, raise our children, and/or climb the corporate ladder? But we must realize the myth that we must always be strong can and does often work to our detriment.
The concept of intersectionality has long been a reality for Black women, and we are grateful that Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw put words and a framework to a concept that we have felt the burden of for centuries. It plays out in gender-based violence where the statistics speak volumes — a staggering almost 50% of Black women have experienced sexual assault, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Many of us have experienced this but we chose to keep it quiet because what will it do to our strength if we let anyone know that we are vulnerable?
Sometimes we are “strong” because we don’t believe that legal systems will protect us. If we are advocating for ourselves, we are being too dramatic. If we are quieter or calmer than they think we should be, we are complicit in our abuse. We need legal systems to center us and believe that we deserve the support, resources, and healing that other communities receive without question.
Contrary to what we've been taught, you shouldn’t always have to be strong.
The notion that "you have to be twice as good to get half as much" has been ingrained in us, urging us to strive for perfection to uphold the standard of "Black excellence." It's time to challenge this narrative and embrace the idea that vulnerability is our superpower. Suppressing your emotions only limits your freedom. But a word of caution, being vulnerable is not something you find that you will be able to share with everyone. Here are four ways you can practice safe vulnerability.
Takeaway #1 - Community is Queen
Life is not meant to be lived in isolation. As the African proverb goes, "It takes a village." Seek out a community where you feel emotionally safe and free. “Friendship is the single most important factor influencing our health, well-being and happiness.” Surround yourself with individuals who uplift and support you.
One way to build community is to engage with mental health resources. Dr. Joy Harden Bradford's website, Therapy for Black Girls, is an excellent resource. Don't hesitate to ask your community for suggestions on mental health professionals who understand the unique challenges faced by Black women. Seeking professional help is a sign of strength and self-care.
Takeaway #2 - Be Honest About How You Are Showing Up
Pretending that everything is okay does a disservice not only to yourself but also to your community. Your vulnerability is a strength that fosters connection and allows your community to show up for you. Open up, share your struggles, and let others support you on your journey.
Takeaway #3 – Advocate for Other Black Women and Demand that Other Groups Do the Same
Black women have many of the same concerns, but we are not a monolith. With that comes recognizing when we are a part of groups with privilege and using that privilege to benefit other Black women. I am a Black woman who is cisgender, married, a mother, educated, neurotypical, able-bodied, and upper middle class. I believe that it is my responsibility to advocate for the well-being of those who are not a part of those communities. As much as we should be advocating for each other, we should also demand that other groups show up and advocate for us. We need to keep in the forefront that advocating for Black women’s issues, helps many different people groups.
Takeaway #4 - Life is Hard, but Find Ways to Source Joy
As Dr. Tamara Wilds Lawson wisely said on the Black Woman Leading podcast, make this year about sourcing joy. Actively seek happiness for yourself, whether it's indulging in your favorite treat in solitude or planning a mini road trip with friends. Joy is not just a fleeting emotion; it's a powerful force that can sustain you through life's challenges.
If you want to learn more, I previously co-wrote an article titled “Black Women Deserve the Right to Be Free from Violence.” It gives several action steps for the gender-based violence movement to help prevent further violence in the Black community. Additionally, you find a podcast episode here on The Loyalty Trap: Black Women, Domestic Violence and Firearms.
Black woman, it's time to rewrite the narrative. Embrace your vulnerability, seek the support of your community, be honest about your struggles, prioritize your mental health, and intentionally source joy. The strength we possess lies not just in enduring hardships but in our ability to navigate them with authenticity and grace. Remember, you are deserving of love, support, and the space to be authentically yourself.
In hope and solidarity,
 Beauboeuf-Lafontant, T. (2009). Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman: Voice and the Embodiment of a Costly Performance. Temple University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bs78r
 Abrams JA, Hill A, Maxwell M. Underneath the Mask of the Strong Black Woman Schema: Disentangling Influences of Strength and Self-Silencing on Depressive Symptoms among U.S. Black Women. Sex Roles. 2019 May;80(9-10):517-526. doi: 10.1007/s11199-018-0956-y. Epub 2018 Sep 10. PMID: 31086431; PMCID: PMC6510490.
 Intersectionality is a concept that enables us to recognize the fact that perceived group membership can make people vulnerable to various forms of bias, yet because we are simultaneously members of many groups, our complex identities can shape the specific way we each experience that bias. African American Policy Forum https://www.aapf.org/_files/ugd/62e126_19f84b6cbf6f4660bac198ace49b9287.pdf
 R.I.M. Dunbar, “The Anatomy of Friendship,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 22, Issue 1,2018, Pages 32-51, ISSN 1364-6613, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2017.10.004.TAGS: #black women #BWJP Announcements #Gender Based Violence #News #Women